4 steps to work smarter (not harder) to build a successful law practice

We have all heard the familiar phrases “hard work never killed anybody” and “no pain, no gain.”  But nobody talks about working smarter—not harder—in order to get ahead. In fact, working smarter can mean working less while continuing to build success. This is true even for a law practice.

Most lawyers learn nothing about growing a successful practice while in law school. Instead, they learn the concept of working hard to be an excellent problem solver — to think like a lawyer. And when law school is done, many new lawyers go to work at law firms where the number of hours they bill often equates to personal success. Only when those lawyers decide to become partners or leave their firm to set up their own practices do they start to look at the business side of the operation. And, while they probably understand the concept of hard work, they might not grasp the idea of working smarter to build success.

The tips that follow offer practical guidelines to build a successful law practice:

1. Realize that you cannot do it all

As excellent lawyers, we feel that we are the only people able to assist our clients and solve their problems. Without our expertise, we tell ourselves, the case will fail and the client will walk away unhappy. As a result, we spread ourselves too thin, sacrificing valuable family and personal time to personally handle every aspect of a case. We believe our staff cannot manage without our guidance. Working smarter directly addresses this detrimental way of thinking; it’s about learning to loosen the reins a bit—to take a step back. And the result might surprise you: cases can still be resolved efficiently, and the staff is often more satisfied with less oversight. This, of course, does not happen overnight, but it can develop with the proper staff and training. It also involves explaining to clients that a team approach allows their legal work to be completed in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

2. Hire excellent staff

Once you realize that your staff is there not to just follow orders but, more importantly, to help grow your practice, you can place greater emphasis on hiring only candidates who can handle the responsibility. Employees who are willing to learn can pick up the mechanics of the work and conform to your style of lawyering. When hiring, weigh qualities like cultural fit, dedication, and commitment just as much as experience and education. Keep in mind, however, that despite your best efforts to hire a top-notch staff, there will invariably be someone who does not work out as expected. If so, that person needs to be let go, as their bad habits or bad morale can jeopardize the work and hurt other staff members.

3. Work more efficiently

Technology has advanced the way we practice law and communicate with clients, courts, and opposing counsel. But it can also bog us down and overwhelm us, especially if we let it control us rather than help us. Email is a perfect example of this. Our inboxes are overflowing with professional and personal messages, some of which require immediate attention and some of which never need to be read. I recommend choosing a time of day to read and review email. During that time, file messages away or deal with them if they require immediate attention. After that, move on to other pressing tasks. Don’t be a slave to the constant influx of messages.

4. Pay attention to business

A law practice will only be successful if it produces great work for its clients. But it is also important to make sure clients are being invoiced for the great work you are doing on their behalf. Clients will be more satisfied if they know where they stand financially, and the staff will be equally happy to know that their paychecks are arriving on time.

Register for my webinar on June 22nd where I will dive deeper into the subject so you can walk away with practical tools to put into practice.